My top song in 2023 was all things end by hozier, which is fitting, because it was a year of endings and goodbyes, of having one too many hugs that felt like the last, and coming to terms that I’d somehow, reluctantly, arrived at the “real world.”
There’s something deeply painful about saying goodbye to someone you think you will never see again. You can grab on to the concept of a future reunion, the idea that you’ll keep in contact over text, that “it’s a see you later not a goodbye” but what hurts is, once you’ve said enough of these goodbyes–in-denial, your heart figures out it isn’t real.
Recently, I’ve been spending a lot more time alone and being forced to be intentional when asking to hang out with friends. (And, writing a post about how to be alone has not helped my own loneliness problem.) While I still find it deeply difficult to exist on my own and find joy in doing things alone, I think it’s taught me how to say goodbye and how to accept that nothing is permanent.
Goodbyes to people who have so fundamentally changed you is like accepting that their impact on your life ends now. It’s a pause on all the phrases you’ve learned from them, an end to being constantly inspired by how they go at life with such passion; it’s never being able to create another memory with them.
Graduating from a boarding high school was filled with these—so many people I had loved and admired and secretly wanted to get to know better, yet never getting the chance again. And what’s maybe worse, having to let go of the people who gave me a reason to get out of bed or treated me with a care I don’t know I will ever find again.
In London, I weirdly had the chance to meet again with people I had said goodbye to and had finally forgotten about how much I missed them (this is a lie). I was able to see someone I had really connected with over a summer program and was able to see the squad of quirky and wonderful Europeans I had literally fallen in love with in Japan. I still sometimes call my new roommate the name of a high school friend by accident because it just feels like the same care; because I miss having a slightly shorter best friend next to me as we walk to class in the morning; because it feels like the story has repeated itself. Which, I guess, is kind of the point of this writing at all.
In traveling, I’ve also made inherently ephemeral friendships—now, what does this mean?
I think, when I meet someone I fundamentally click with, I want to grab on to them forever because I’m afraid I’ll never know someone like them again and end up hurting the friendship. I’ll be scared to set boundaries because I’m afraid it’ll change things or be so clingy in my brain I get scared and run away.
Yet, when I visited Oxford, I met some amazing people I felt truly safe dancing around and singing with, even if I barely knew their names. And, when I went to a bar and met these hilarious students who stuck so steadfastly to the rules of beer pong—and while I might have asked for an instagram or a number, I know I will probably never talk to them again.
It’s weird, it’s a bit comforting to be in a place where no one knows you and no one will. At the soirée or some random art event, I felt freer than I ever had in school—I struck up a conversation with someone in line, I high-fived an acapella singer, I complimented some strangers’ dress… I… made a spotify blend with someone I barely knew and screamed about how much we loved boygenius? Reality Claire™ would never do this because she’d be too scared she’d be judged or be remembered, but being in a new place makes me feel like I’m in an alternate dimension.
But beyond just these obviously ephemeral moments, it has been character-building to say goodbye to real friends made in a short time.
There are those people you meet because you’re like, meh, what can go wrong? I need to talk to new people more anyway, and then you blink, and it’s been a week, and you’ve spent all your time together.
Sometimes, I find myself worrying I’ve attached too hard to someone, and suddenly, it’s time for me to run, to leave, to convince myself that no, really, I don’t actually care. I find comfort knowing I have “choices” beyond just them out of some mysterious fear (or belief it’ll end sometime, so I should have a backup)… but it’s also quite beautiful because you’ll say goodbye to this person and never forget them. You’ll see a painting or a street name and think about them, but no matter what you send or try to restart, it won’t feel the same again because time has restarted. Don’t be afraid of that.
How do you say goodbye, then?
It’s so magical because you can think fondly of someone who has become a friend without needing years of opening up and sharing and trauma—not to say they replace those friendships, but that they fill a hole in the banality of life.
Being afraid of goodbyes also meant I couldn’t imagine my friendship with some people ever-changing, that I couldn’t imagine a world where I didn’t talk to them every day; and look, it required a world of hurt and thinking (and desperately finding new people to redirect all the thoughts and love I had) for me even to imagine distancing myself from various negative connections.
I feel like, by definition, words like “forever” or “always” are, well… always untrue. There’s a lie in it somewhere, regardless of how desperately we wish it to be true in the moment. And yet, knowledge of this does not make the end hurt any less because somewhere along the line, we had believed this delusion and really, truly bought into “forever”.
Does knowing things will end change how you should interact with them?
Should I protect myself from relying on them too much because, eventually, they’ll disappear, and I’ll have to find someone new?
What I’ve found some comfort in is realizing that life is actually, weirdly enough, pretty long. I don’t believe in soulmate theory and don’t believe anyone will be The One—in the sense that you will continue to find people who will change your life as long as you have hope, and you don’t need to feel scared that you’re missing out on something if you end a “good thing” right now.
I used to find a lot of comfort (and fear) in statistics: that 9 in 10 adults suffer from the loneliness epidemic, that as you grow older your closest friends are literally just your college friends, that you’ll end up alone if you don’t marry someone now! But you don’t have to be a statistic because, in the most annoying way possible, you are different. Different because you care, difference because you’re aware of this statistic and will fight tooth and nail for it to be untrue; and therefore, it’ll all be okay.
So, I guess, the difficulty in saying goodbye is accepting the change?
while i’m not quite talking about a “falling off” it’s still the same feeling. that some random “stranger” out there just knows the world about you
p.s.: take this quiz: which song from so much (for) stardust are you and lmk what you get :)